Johannesburg | While South Africa spent nearly USD 5.6 million hosting the 15th BRICS Summit, the cost was fully justified as it brought great economic benefits to the country, the government has said amid criticism from the Opposition.
The BRICS Summit was held in South Africa in July in Johannesburg.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) made the statement on Thursday responding to claims by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) that the expenditure on the BRICS summit could have been better spent on addressing the crippling cost of living crisis that South Africans are currently battling.
DA Member of Parliament (MP) Emma Louise Powell, who described the amount as "staggering", said it got even worse when the additional 75 million Rands (about USD 4 million) spent by the South African Police Service (SAPS) on protecting attendees at the summit was included, despite most international delegations being accompanied by their respective national security agencies.
"We now know that between SAPS and DIRCO, the three-day BRICS summit cost the South African taxpayer no less than R180 (USD 9.6 million). This grotesque expenditure is a kick in the teeth for ordinary South Africans who have been left to fend for themselves in a country with one of the highest crime and unemployment rates in the world," she said.
Asserting that Powell misunderstood the economic benefits of hosting such international conferences and other meetings, the department said, "While it is true that just over R 104 million (about USD 5.6 million), as reported by DIRCO, was contributed towards the successful hosting of the BRICS Summit, the economic benefits to the City of Johannesburg far outweigh the (amount) that DIRCO contributed." "The list of benefits South Africa gained is endless. Key, among many priorities that South Africa set for itself during the summit, was to strengthen the partnership between BRICS and African countries," the statement said.
The BRICS grouping consists of members Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
"In this regard, BRICS leaders reiterated their support for the African Union's Agenda 2063. In particular, they supported the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area through economic and financial cooperation between BRICS and African countries," it said.
The DIRCO said other objectives included South Africa leveraging its political and economic relations with BRICS members to address its challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality through increased intra-BRICS trade, investment, tourism, capacity building, skills, and technology transfers.
"South Africa provided courtesy support to only four delegates per country. This is a normal international practice. All the delegations attended with additional accompanying persons and paid fully for their accommodation, meals, etc.," the statement said.
"We even had one delegation with over 100 people, who all were accommodated in a hotel and paid for in full," the DIRCO said.
It added that it was South Africa's responsibility as a member of the most important grouping of emerging countries in the world to host the BRICS Summit, as was expected of each member, every five years.
South Africa's overall trade with its BRICS partners has increased by an average growth of 10 per cent from 2017-2021, the statement said. Total South African trade with BRICS reached R 830 (USD 45 billion) in 2022 from R 487 billion (USD 26.5 billion) in 2017.
Last year, BRICS accounted for 21 per cent of South Africa's global trade.